Swallowing difficulties with oral drugs among polypharmacy patients attending community pharmacies

Int J Clin Pharm. 2013 Dec;35(6):1130-6. doi: 10.1007/s11096-013-9836-2. Epub 2013 Aug 21.


Background: Swallowing difficulties are common and can affect patients' ability to take solid oral dosage forms, thus compromising medication adherence. Strategies developed by patients to overcome such difficulties while taking medicines have seldom been described.

Objective: To determine prevalence and characteristics of swallowing difficulties among primary care patients attending their community pharmacies; to explore strategies developed by patients to overcome their difficulties, and health professionals' awareness of these problems.

Setting: Prospective study with a semi-structured questionnaire in random community pharmacies located in two Swiss regions.

Method: In each pharmacy, an interviewer asked 16 questions to each consecutive patient (18 years and older) with a prescription for at least 3 different solid oral forms.

Main outcome measure: Quantification of number of patients with swallowing difficulties and detailed description of difficulties.

Results: Among 122 pharmacies, 59 (48 %) accepted to join the study and 410 patients were enrolled. Thirty-seven patients (9.0 %) reported ongoing swallowing difficulties, while 55 patients (13.4 %) reported past difficulties. For the majority of patients, difficulties occurred at each single dose (83.7 %), with a single medication (59.8 %) and lasted for less than 12 months (53.8 %). Number of tablets was not the main trigger. Swallowing difficulties impaired extremely daily life in 12 % of the patients. Intentional non adherence (23 % of patients) and altering the oral dose formulation were the most common and potentially harmful strategies used by patients to overcome their swallowing difficulties. According to the patients, pharmacists and physicians rarely inquired about their swallowing difficulties.

Conclusion: We report a fairly high prevalence of swallowing difficulties in polypharmacy patients attending their community pharmacies. Pharmacists have to interview patients on their swallowing difficulties in a more systematic way, support patients in finding solutions and refer them to their physician if necessary to ensure continuity in care.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Community Pharmacy Services
  • Deglutition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Pharmacists / organization & administration*
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Prevalence
  • Professional Role
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Switzerland
  • Tablets
  • Young Adult


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Tablets